CHARLOTTE — It’s a simple question, but it requires more than a simple answer.
Even with an abundance of roster turnover, including its leading scorer from the season before, how does Clemson make its return to playing well into March?
Head coach Brad Brownell held court with reporters during Tuesday’s ACC Tipoff in Charlotte, N.C.
“Simply right now, it’s just one good day after another,” Brownell said.“I like our team. I like our group. I think they’re competing really well in practice against one another. I think that was one of the things that helped last year’s team was we had depth in practice. We had healthy bodies and we had 10 or 11 good players that every day when they’re competing, you got better. I feel we’re kind of that way this year. I feel we got 10 or 11 guys that can really go at it.
“We need to stay healthy. We don’t have quite as many bodies, but the practice against competitive players leads to improvement and competition is good. I’m hopeful that’s gonna be a big key to us.”
First off, replacing Aamir Simms doesn’t happen overnight, nor is his level production going to come from just any player.
“Yeah, Aamir was a significant loss,” Brownell said. “Terrific player who had an unbelievable career at Clemson. As much as the points and rebounds, it was his personality. It was the way he approached practice every day, his work ethic, his smile, his personality. It just rubbed off on everyone.
“Obviously, there’s not one player that you’re going to go recruit or sign that’s going to be like him. But I do think we have brought in some guys like Naz [Bohannon] here and David Collins that are experienced and older players, and we’ve got a player like Hunter Tyson who’s been in our program for four years and understands our culture and what’s important to Clemson to win and be successful.”
Bohannon wasn’t brought in from Youngstown State to put on Simms’ shoes, but rather help alleviate the loss. He adds a level of physicality and toughness, mixed in with his ability to score at a high clip. The 6-6, 228-pound forward led Youngstown State in scoring last season with 16.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. He also logged 32.9 minutes per contest and a team-best 52.6 percent shooting clip.
The Tigers will need to replace Simms by committee and that happens with depth.
Clemson signed three players as a part of its 2021 recruiting class — Josh Beadle, Ben Middlebrooks and Ian Schieffelin — helping mitigate the significant roster overhaul that the team underwent this offseason.
“All in different ways,” Brownell said when asked if any of the freshmen have stood out thus far. “They’ve done some really good things. Ben Middlebrooks has put on eight or 10 pounds, he’s up to 230-232, 6-10. He’s a big, physical kid, who is trying to learn how to play in different ways kind of all over the court because that’s how we utilize our centers, so there’s some challenges there. But, really impressed by his work ethic and his physicality is really good.”
While Middlebrooks received almost immediate praise from Brownell, it sounded like Schieffelin may be further along than the other two freshmen. Though Beadle is showing flashes of his potential, he’s a raw talent. The Cardinal Newman School (Columbia, S.C.) product may need some time to develop.
“Ian Schieffelin, on the other hand, lost 20 pounds,” Brownell added. “He came in a little out of shape and has done an unbelievable job of changing his diet, staying committed to it and kind of retooling his body. He brings a real stable influence to us. He plays with great poise. Probably of the three freshmen, he has the best feel for passing and playing with other people and just making decisions.
“And then Josh Beadle is a hard-working young guy. We think is talented. He’s put on eight pounds. He’s gotten physically stronger. Just needs the experience of handling the ball against high-level guards and decision-making in pick-and-rolls that are challenging, but man, he’s shown some flashes of really good play. I think they’re all talented in their way. They’ve all shown some really good things, but they’re young.”
Speaking of additions, Clemson was diligent in dipping into the transfer portal when it needed to, finding a mix of experience and talent in Bohannon and South Florida transfer David Collins.
The transfer portal works both ways and Clemson lost two former four-star recruits from the team’s 2020 recruiting class — Lynn Kidd and Olivier Maxence Prosper. Still, the Tigers were able to identify what they were looking for and came out with players who they feel can immediately contribute.
Clemson identified a similar playstyle from Collins, as it did Trapp, who provided a steady presence in the backcourt over the past four seasons.
Collins is a dominant scorer, who is known for his ability to draw contact. The 6-4, 220-pound guard led USF in scoring last season (2020-21) with 12.5 points per game and averaged over 30 minutes per contest. He added 3.5 rebounds and a team-leading 3.4 assists per contest. He shot 42.0 percent from the field, including 37.3 percent from beyond the arc.
He finished his career with the Bulls, recording 1,516 career points, which is the seventh-most in the history of the program.
“He’s a big, strong driver,” Brownell said. “Clyde had some of those characteristics. Pretty good decision-maker. A guy who can make a shot. He’s an experienced guy, who’s done it at a good level. He drew a lot of fouls, so he’s in an attack mode, which I think our team needs that. I think we need another guy who’s a wing that can put his head down and can go get in the lane late in the shot clock or be the closeout and get fouled and get to the free-throw line or create something for somebody else. I feel like that’s where the physicality and the size is gonna help us. Whereas a younger, smaller guard, maybe the Alex Hemingways and the Nick Honors are a little smaller. Not as easy for those guys to do that.”
Brownell believes that Collins’ maturity level, confidence and physicality make him the perfect player to make a “reasonably simple” jump from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC.
There’s hope that with some added experience and a general expectation of players like Honor, P.J. Hall, Al-Amir Dawes stepping up, that Clemson can find itself back in postseason play. But as Brownell said, right now, it’s just one day at a time.